I recently finished Bill Rodgers’ book, Marathon Man, and in it he wrote, “Here is the power of running: With every mile you run, with every stride you take, you do more than reshape your body – you reshape your destiny.” That has certainly been true for me. In fact, my running habit has shaped my destiny far more than it shaped my body. For all the miles I’ve run I haven’t changed much in shape or volume, but I’ve changed significantly in heart and mind.
I first took up running in late May 1978, at the beginning of the summer between my two senior years at the University of Oklahoma. I did it to win back the heart of a girl that I wanted to be my girlfriend but who spent the previous five months dating a track and field guy. For some reason I thought becoming an athlete myself might help. Of course, I never turned into an athlete, but I did become a life-long runner. I got hooked on spending time alone on my feet.
So even in the beginning, running reshaped my destiny. I’ve now been married to that same girl for over 34 years.
And the reshaping continued. Another way running changed my destiny was through Bible verses.
When I was in college I took on the practice of memorizing Bible verses. I did it by writing them on small cards, about 2”x3”, and carrying them in my pocket so I could pull them out and review them during the day.
When I started running longer miles I needed a mental distraction to keep my mind from convincing me to turn around and go back home, so I started carrying those verse cards with me. I would review and memorize while I ran. And that very practice became one of the most consistent meditative experiences of my life. I had nothing to do but think about the verses and all the possible meanings and applications, and after a few years of that, my mind was transformed. I became a different guy.
But maybe my biggest destiny reshaping from running happened in November 1983 when I finished my first marathon, the Golden Yucca Marathon in Hobbs, New Mexico.
For some reason I still can’t explain, I started dreaming about marathons from the very beginning. It was completely unexpected. Running was the first athletic thing of significance I ever did outside of PE class. Growing up, I did not participate in sports. I preferred being by myself and wandering around in the mesquite pasture near my house looking for adventure.
The Golden Yucca Marathon was my first, and it changed me completely in one stride.
Before I crossed the marathon finish line I was a smart, clever engineer with little promise as an athlete. After I stepped across the line, a true pound-the-chest howl-at-the-moon moment, in that one shuffling exhausted step, I became a man who could do anything. I was now invincible, brave, strong, focused, and successful.
In the moments before I crossed the marathon finish line, I was nothing but an exhausted, wet (it was raining), beat-up, plodding, back-of-the-pack runner, who was too tired to complete a coherent sentence. But as soon as I stepped across that line I became a certified marathon runner who would tell running stories for the rest of his life. I was forever changed, in that instant, and I knew it immediately. Running reshaped my destiny.
Well, to be honest, I often get embarrassed that I tell so many stories about myself. But those are the stories I know best so those are the ones I tell. If, when reading my stories, you think of your own, then I have succeeded as a writer.
So let me know. Tell me your big moments that shaped you. Bill Rodgers was right about running reshaping destiny, but running certainly isn’t the only activity that can do that. What were yours?
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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